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Carter, Wisniewski see Jackets as playoff team

by Dan Rosen
The shock of being traded from Philadelphia almost a month ago has worn off, and Wednesday new Columbus center Jeff Carter said he sees no reason why he can't return to the playoffs with the Blue Jackets this season.

By trading for Carter and signing James Wisniewski, Columbus now may have a bona fide No. 1 center and a do-it-all defenseman for the first time since its debut season of 2000-01.

"I believe it," Carter, who will wear No. 7, said during a press conference at Nationwide Arena to introduce himself and Wisniewski to the local media. "You look at the roster, you have a goalie like Steve Mason and he's shown what he can do in this League. Guys like Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger -- there are some real good hockey players on this team. I don't see any reason why we can't be in the playoffs."

The playoffs, of course, were on general manager Scott Howson's mind when he made the bold trade to acquire Carter on June 23 and handed out big money to sign Wisniewski on July 1.

Howson said his two main priorities this summer were to acquire a top center and to improve the defense so the Jackets not only could make a run at the franchise's second-ever playoff berth this season, but become a serious contender for seasons to come.

Carter cost Columbus 2007 first-round draft pick Jakub Voracek as well as its first- and third-round picks in the 2011 Entry Draft. Philadelphia used the first pick, No. 8, on center Sean Couturier.

"If you look at all the top teams in the NHL, all the contenders, they're all strong down the middle," Howson said. "We feel now with Jeff, Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, Sammy Pahlsson ... we have a chance to be strong down the middle."

Once the commotion stemming from the Carter deal settled and Howson was able to get the talented center on board with their plan, Howson turned his focus to improving the defense. He targeted Wisniewski because he was a 50-point player, could play upwards of 25 minutes a night and contribute on the power play, which perennially has been a thorn in the Blue Jackets' side.

Columbus' power play has finished in the top 15 only twice since 2000-01, and never better than 12th. It has been in the bottom five in five of the six seasons since the work stoppage.

"We have not been good on the power play for a long, long time and part of the reason for that is we haven't had the right person to run it," Howson said. "We think James will be able to do that for us."

He's certainly getting paid handsomely to be that person. Wisniewski, who played the last five seasons on one-year contracts, signed a six-year, $33 million contract, but he said the term and money were just as important as going to a winner.

Granted, the Blue Jackets never have been a winner, but Wisniewski wouldn't have signed with Columbus if he didn't believe they could be now. He said the trade for Carter made his decision to sign with Columbus even easier.

"I don't want to lose every day. That makes life miserable," said Wisniewski, who will wear No. 21 with the Blue Jackets. "With Rick Nash being who he is and Jeff Carter being a top center -- those guys don't come along too often. I look forward to getting this started."

Carter echoed those statements.

His excitement level skyrocketed after meeting with Howson, coach Scott Arniel and Nash at his summer home on the New Jersey shore late last month. This week, he's gotten to learn more about the city of Columbus and meet with a few of his new teammates, namely Derek Dorsett and Jared Boll.

Carter said he got the sense from them that there is a new energy surrounding the team.

"It seems like everybody wants to get on the ice right now," Carter said.

In hopes of creating early chemistry with his new teammates, specifically with Nash, Carter said he will start skating in Columbus prior to training camp. He never has played with Nash, but can envision the two creating some magic on the ice and holding the puck for long stretches of time.

"You look at the roster, you have a goalie like Steve Mason and he's shown what he can do in this League. Guys like Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger -- there are some real good hockey players on this team. I don't see any reason why we can't be in the playoffs." -- Jeff Carter

Carter and Nash both finished among the leaders in shots on goal this past season.

"I expect us to have the puck quite a bit, so we'll get the shots on net," Carter said. "You can't score if you don't shoot. I think we'll figure things out. Rick is a great player. He has shown it for years and I look forward to playing with him.

"With our games, they're pretty similar so I don't think it will take us too long (to develop chemistry together)."

It better not.

The fans in Columbus have been loyal and waiting a long time for their team to become a contender.

Their hopes never have been higher.

"Sometimes some new faces are all you need, a little bit of a spark," Wisniewski said. "Hopefully with the acquisitions Scott has made, we're on the upswing. We're looking forward to winning games, not just being a .500 team."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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